NLDS Preview: Phillies vs St. Louis Cardinals

Philadelphia: 102-60; 1st in NL East
St. Louis: 90-72; 2nd in NL Central (Wild Card winner)

Game 1: Oct. 1, 5:07 PM – (Roy Halladay vs Kyle Lohse)
Game 2: Oct. 2, 8:07 PM (Cliff Lee vs Chris Carpenter)
Game 3: Oct. 4, _ PM (Cole Hamels vs Edwin Jackson)
Game 4*: Oct. 5, _ PM (TBD vs Jaime Garcia)
Game 5*: Oct. 7, _ PM (TBD vs TBD)

Road to the Playoffs
PHI: The Phils cruised to their easiest of five straight NL East titles with their second straight 100-win season. Though the road got a little bumpy in the beginning of the season with a slumping outfield as well as towards the end of the season when they went on an eight-game skid after clinching homefield, the Phillies season was filled with dominance. Their consistently dominant play has given fans in Philadelphia reason to expect another parade down Broad Street.

STL: The Cardinals’ road was a lot bumpier, and in the long run, more exhausting. On August 25, they trailed the Braves by 10 1/2 games in the NL Wild Card race. Since then, they’ve gone 23-9, while Atlanta went 11-20, completing one of the biggest comebacks in baseball history. The Cardinals may be incredibly hot riding into Saturday’s Game 1. But is momentum as big as it sounds or will they hit a brick wall in Philadelphia?

PHI: The Phillies boast the best rotation in all of baseball. Put aside the fact that their starter’s ERA was a 2.87, the fact that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will be the three pitching this series is just the scariest though imaginable for any team in a five-game series. The bull pen will feature starters Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley, dangerous lefty Antonio Bastardo, righties Michael Stutes and Brad Lidge and one of the season’s top closers in Ryan Madson.

STL: St. Louis has a good rotation but they were forced to get knocked off track with their incredible comeback on the Braves. The way it’s lined up, ace Chris Carpenter won’t get to pitch until Game 3 unless they pitch him on short rest, something that’s tough for a 36-year-old. Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson will take up the first two games. With that, it appears Jaime Garcia will be the “if necessary” Game 4 starter and either Jake Westbrook or Kyle Lohse will pitch Game 5. Their bull pen features closer Fernando Salas, who has saved 24/30, and Jason Motte, whose 2.25 ERA is the lowest in their pen.

PHI: At first base, the Phils boast one of the most feared power hitters in baseball with Ryan Howard (.253/33/116). Chase Utley has had an injury riddled season, hitting .257 and driving in only 44 RBIs. The Phils moved him into the two-spot in the order in hopes he will produce by getting on base there — he’s still the team’s best base runner. The left side of the infield has been hurting all season as well with lead-off hitter Jimmy Rollins battling calf problems and Placido Polanco battling back and arm problems. Both can still come up with timely hits though as both are the two oldest players in the infield. Carlos Ruiz is one of the top catchers in all of baseball and is incredibly dangerous in the postseason.

STL: Albert Pujols is still the best player in baseball. Pujols had a down year, but an incredible year when compared to other first basemen: .299/37/99. But the pop stops there. David Freese, after he got past the early injuries, made himself an effective member of the line up. His .297 average, 10 homers and 55 RBIs would have looked much nicer if he played a full season. Yadier Molina is no slouch behind the plate with his offense, hitting .305. The question marks pop up in the middle infield with Skip Schumaker and Rafael Furcal being two of the weakest links in the line up.

PHI: The outfield made a serious upgrade when they added Hunter Pence before the deadline. Since joining the Phils, Pence is hitting .324 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in 54 games (imagine those numbers with a full season at CBP). Shane Victorino is the offense’s most dynamic weapon despite cooling down. He hit 27 doubles, 16 triples and 17 homers as well as driving in 61 RBIs from the top of the line up. He also adds some serious defense to boot. Raul Ibanez and John Mayberry could possibly platoon in left field though the job still looks to belong to Ibanez. Ibanez is hot and cold, hitting .245 with 20 homers and 84 RBIs.

STL: St. Louis has one of the best outfields in baseball, especially now that Matt Holliday is healthy. Holliday enjoyed a very nice season, hitting .296 with 22 homers and 75 RBIs despite missing 38 games. He is joined by 1B-turned-RF Lance Berkman. Berkman may be lacking in glove but he makes it up for offense, enjoying the team’s best season with a .301 average, 31 homers and 95 RBIs. He also had a .412 OBP and .547 slugging to give himself a team-high .959 OPS. John Jay roams centerfield, adding a .297 average, 10 bombs and 37 RBIs from the top of the order.

PHI: If Mayberry isn’t starting in left field, he will be the top right-handed option off the bench. The Phils also have left-handed Ross Gload and league leading 18 pinch-hits (as well as his fraying hip) and right-handed Ben Francisco. Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez are valuable pinch-runners, sacrifice bunters and defensive substitutes.

STL: Allen Craig is the best option off the bench. The righty filled in nicely while Holliday and Berkman shared time on the DL, hitting .315 with 11 homers and 40 RBIs. Ryan Theriot and Nick Punto (and possibly Furcal if Theriot starts at short) are probably St. Louis’ other best options off the bench, which doesn’t impress at all.

Prediction: Clearly, the Philadelphia Phillies are the better team. Better pitching, deeper bench and a very similar line up as far as power and hitting are concerned. If this series does come down to the pitching match-ups, which already favor the Phils despite St. Louis not being line up, it could a quick three or four-game series for the Phils.

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